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Dirty sugar? - Bureau of Standards Jamaica derelict in sweetener's quality

Published:Friday | December 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Brown sugar being weighed at a shop on Wednesday.

Jamaicans will continue to buy retail sugar packaged under less than ideal conditions for some time as the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) struggles to come up with the revised packaging and labelling standards almost a year after Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, promised that the process was well under way and nearing completion.

"I don't foresee it being published before next year. Reason being there are still some major concerns regarding the requirements in the standards, so it will take some more engagement with the stakeholders in order to come to one agreement. We should have the next stakeholder engagement before the end of the year, but after that, it will have to be sent to the standards council for final approval, then to the minister for him to sign, then for gazetting. We're hoping that it will be gazetted before the end of the fiscal year, which is March 31, but for sure, the standard will not be ready until next year, 2017, next calendar year," Gary Dixon, manager of marketing and public relations at the BSJ, disclosed last Friday.

Last December, Stanberry told The Gleaner that the new standards had in fact been drafted and were bound for Cabinet review, with consumer safety being the primary concern.

 

NEW PACKAGING CRITERIA

 

"What the new packaging standards will ensure is that all sugar in the retail trade, whether refined or locally produced raw sugar, is really subject to proper food, health, and safety standards. What obtains now is that persons buy in bulk and parcel out or package it in the back of a supermarket, and we don't know under what kinds of conditions," Stanberry explained.

Established as a statutory body under the Standards Act of 1969 to promote and encourage standardisation in relation to business, the BSJ is responsible for facilitating the timely development, promulgation, promotion, and implementation of national and regional standards for goods, services, processes, and practices. However, Dixon seemed unclear as to whether it was the BSJ or the other stakeholders in the sugar industry that were leading the standard revision process.

"All the stakeholders in the process aren't agreeing on all the requirements of the standard. So rather than going ahead with what some persons might feel, we want to get at least the majority on board. Currently, the majority is not on board with the requirements, so we can't proceed. I don't want to say we need the buy-in, but we need the participation of the stakeholders in the process. So we really are going to have another meeting with them to discuss the findings, et cetera, and then we move on with the process," he said.

Pressed as to whether it was moral suasion or science that would determine the final outcome, the BSJ public relations manager insisted that it was the latter and that the regulatory agency would eventually go ahead and make a determination, even if this did not meet with the approval of other stakeholders.

However, for Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, the ongoing delay is absurd.

"Sure, absolutely, we are. No doubt about it," he said when questioned as to whether consumers were being exposed to public-health risks. "I think in 2017, which we are on the cusp of, for us to be selling products that are not correctly labelled and have no labelling, no packaging standards, is a little bit ridiculous. So it's just an untenable situation and should be addressed," he told The Gleaner.

For Karl James, chairman of Jamaican Cane Products Sales Limited, the standards are also "long overdue".

"It's something we've been pressing for for a very long time because we figure that going forward, when there is more value-added and diversification, you need to have the standards that you must meet. If you don't establish the standards for the packaged product that you put on the shelf for your consumers, what protection are you giving them?

"And that's what we have been saying, that when you allow for the sugar to be packaged at the back of a supermarket or anywhere other than an approved packaging facility, [remember] sugar is one of the commodities that you don't even have to cook before you use it. It's going to be used directly. So you need to set the standard. You need to have the guarantee. You need to have the thing in place," he said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com